My name is Ashraf Khalil, but everyone who knows me calls me Ash.
I was born in Cairo, Egypt, in August 1969. My family members were Coptic Orthodox Christians. They worked hard and were well educated. I was the first child and came along when my father was 51. Exactly one year later, my brother was born. My mother didn’t make it through the delivery, so my father faced life as a widower and single father.
Moving to the U.S.
Life was tough for Christians in Egypt. Christians were persecuted by Muslims more and more, and curfews were imposed on the people. So when I was seven, my father decided we needed to leave. As a child all I knew was that we were moving far away.
We moved to Long Island, New York, and stayed with my uncle and his family over two years. The culture shock hit me hard, and I forgot how to read and write Arabic.
We then moved to New Jersey. I experienced prejudices from students in the public school because of where I was from. On one occasion some boys picked on me and wanted to fight. One of them spat in my face. A short, young boy came in the middle of us and told them to leave me alone, and they did.
My dad wanted to leave New Jersey and meet a man named Oral Roberts. He had seen him on TV and was intrigued by him. He asked me where Oral Roberts lived, and I pointed out a state called Oklahoma on the map. So off we went to Oklahoma.
When we arrived, we immediately went where Oral Roberts was. My father’s high hopes were short lived. We had little and soon secured an apartment in low-income housing on the north side of Tulsa. The area was extremely poor and infested with drugs and gangs.
My brother and I attended the Catholic elementary school directly across the street from our apartment. A mission there was staffed by nuns, who lovingly helped us get on our feet. There was no Coptic church, so we attended the Catholic church attached to the school.
My brother and I became altar boys. That is also where I had my first job during the summer doing odd jobs around the school and helping with the mission garden.
A wonderful elderly man named Mr. Curtain was my speech teacher. I was a shy, fat boy, but he was willing to develop me. After some time, he entered me in the state speech contest, and I tied with another student for first place. That gave me the confidence to speak in public.
After some time, the priest of the church had me lecture the Word of God to the congregation during mass on Sunday. I really liked speaking the Word there. We lived in this area until I graduated from Bishop Kelley High School in 1986 at age 16.
I entered the University of Tulsa at age 16 on an academic scholarship, with matching scholarships from TU and the Catholic Diocese. I loved learning and studied hard. But I got into many sinful things during my college years. Just because a school is private doesn’t mean it is Christian.
During these years I met a friend who opened my eyes to the errors of the Catholic church. She taught me about the many pagan practices and that Sunday worship was not biblical, etc. I then visited the priest and presented him with these things. He informed me that we were to follow what the pope and bishop say. I then realized I was being groomed for the priesthood. I couldn’t agree with him.
I left behind the Catholic church, many friends, and everything I knew. After this, my scholarship was pulled, so I had to withdraw from school after my second year. My father disowned me and was angry with me for leaving the church and embracing new beliefs. I was forced to leave his house on bad terms. I still loved and forgave my father for what he had done, and made a constant effort to visit him. I helped him with what he needed, especially in his old age, because I loved him.
I worked three jobs and tried to attend a community college at night to finish my degree, but it ended up being too much for me. I landed a good job in a company with a lot of room for advancement and moved up in the company quickly.
I was attending a Seventh-day Adventist church when I met Heidi Weekes, who would become my wife. I fell deeply in love with her. She was everything I wanted. I started to ask her what she believed and where she attended church. She told me that she kept the Sabbath and attended the Church of God (Seventh Day).
We couldn’t find anything that we disagreed on in the Bible. Heidi then informed me that I was attending the wrong church and that I wasn’t really an Adventist (I didn’t even believe in Ellen White). We were married after I got her parents’ blessing, a few short months later.
After we had been married a couple of years, I was involved in the church, but inside something was wrong. I knew all the right answers and beliefs, but something was missing. I didn’t realize that I was actually a hypocrite.
After a little time, I became deathly ill with ulcerative colitis. Several doctors tried many drugs, but nothing worked. I became weak and frail. I started to pass out at work and home, and finally was given four months to live.
My only alternative to death was to have major surgery. The doctor said I had a fifty-fifty chance of making it through alive and likely wouldn’t be able to father any more children afterward. (At this point we had one son.) I couldn’t understand it. I had been healthy, exercising and lifting weights.
After two surgeons performed a four-hour surgery, I awoke in much pain and humiliation. I felt so empty. I didn’t want to look at myself or see anybody, especially church folks. When they came to visit me in the hospital, I would hit my “happy button” (pain medicine) to put me to sleep so I wouldn’t have to deal with them. I felt my life was over.
I was in the hospital recovering for some time. A friend from church came to see me and brought food for me to eat. While I ate, he pulled out a cassette player and small box — the Bible on cassettes. I hit the “happy button” and told him to put it on the side of my bed. My wife came in and brought my Bible, and I asked her to put it on the side as well.
Alone that night, I searched the TV for something to satisfy me, to no avail. I picked up the Bible on cassette and followed along as it played. I listened and read 1, 2, and 3 John. That night I saw who Jesus was for the first time in my life. The Word of God filled my ears and heart. I repented right then of my sins and asked God’s forgiveness, and vowed to serve Him all the days of my life. I finally felt true hope and a sense of meaning. I once was lost, but now I was found, was blind but now I could see. I was dead and now I live — now and forever.
When the nurse came in the next morning and told me it was time to eat, I said I was full. She didn’t understand that something in me was more valuable than food. My wife also came in and saw that I was happy. I told her all about what happened, and we thanked God for His grace and mercy for saving me in more ways than one.
Burdens and blessings
Some interesting things happened after that. First, my father died. That crushed me severely. He was all that I had from my biological family who was close to me. Next, we had a fire in our house that claimed the room with my books, computer, clothing, pool table, and hand-finished desk. Thank God my family was safe! The only thing that was not burned but scorched on the outside was my Bible.
Then my prized dog died. I realized all my idols and things that consumed my time had been torn down. I returned to the pure Word of God, and nothing beside. I also needed to spend more quality time with my family.
When God makes disciples, He must break and purge them first. I believe all these things that happened to me were God’s work to bring a lost son home to Him.
God’s blessing didn’t stop there. My wife and I were blessed with four more children — a total of five after my surgery — because of God’s faithfulness to me. Without Jesus in my life, I would have had no true life now and in eternity. I thank God for His amazing and loving grace toward an Egyptian as I!
So does God still call His children out of Egypt? You better believe it! If He can call me out, He can call you too. If there was hope for me, then there is hope for you in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But after we leave Egypt, do its sins, lusts, and desires leave us? I pray we can all one day say, by God’s grace and faith in His Son Jesus and the power of His Holy Spirit, “Yes and amen!” May God get the glory He deserves!